Unions want seafarers to inform the authorities about the latest spate of recruitment scams but past experience has shown that enforcing prosecutions can be difficult
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is urging seafarers to report recruitment scammers following TradeWinds’s expose of the latest fraud to hit the maritime employment market.
However, past history has shown that police and flag states have regularly failed to halt the activities of the recruitment con men who evade the law only to reappear under a different guise.
Responding to TradeWinds’s article uncovering an e-mail recruitment scam — which seeks to win commissions for bogus jobs from Eastern European seafarers by falsely claiming to represent the likes of Lomar Shipping, NS Lemos and AM Nomikos and other London-based Greek owners — the ITF says it is taking action.
It adds that it is not only targeting the fraudsters but other forms of “malpractice” that are prevalent in the seafarer employment market.
“In view of the imminent entry into force of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, the ITF is actively encouraging seafarers to report cases of crewing agents that charge for work, engage in blacklisting or use other illegal tactics to exploit seafarers,” a spokesperson said.
“In our attempts to expose malpractice we are also coming across employment scams that are purely criminal cons. They make reference to real companies and vessels to which they have no contact in reality. By using money-transfer services such as Western Union, they make it virtually impossible to trace the people collecting bogus payments.”
The ITF wants seafarers to report any suspicious websites to http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/. The police have promised the ITF that they will follow up if there are multiple notifications of the same employment agency or website. TradeWinds has passed on the details of websites that are the source of the recent London scam to the ITF.
Yet, despite the promise of action, the scammers have proven difficult to bring to justice.
The ITF commented: “Clearly this [the police following up reports of criminal activity] is constrained by the ease with which criminals can move money without having to leave any record of their identity.”
Indeed, the ITF says that despite painstakingly tracking down the details of criminals behind the fraud, it has not yet seen a single successful prosecution.
“We’ve identified a number of scammers by name and handed over dossiers on their activities to Interpol, Scotland Yard and, for example, the governments of Panama and Canada. Regrettably, prosecutions have not followed through that have helped disrupt their operations,” the ITF revealed.
Part of the problem has been that modern communication technology has made it easy for the fraudsters to convincingly present themselves as representing established shipping companies and also to set up new websites once one has been exposed as acting illegally.
“We can never stop warning about scams because they never go away, and because the possibility to set several up and then to change names when they are exposed has grown alongside the Internet,” said the ITF.
“The biggest help we can offer is to let victims know what is going on before they part with any money. Sadly, some come to us when they’ve made the first payment and the best we can do is get them to stop there before they get hooked into the cycle of paying just one more fee.”
Shipping companies that have been dragged into the scam confirm they have been approached by seafarers expecting to be given a job having been duped by the employment scammers. In many cases they have paid hundreds of dollars for jobs that do not exist. The scams often ask for 10% of the first month’s wages as an introduction commission.
The ITF also say that around half the seafarers contacting them enquiring about the credibility of job advertisements have already made the first payment to fraudsters.
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